Citizens UK – for the people or the state?

Citizens UK – for the people or the state?


Written by: Harmit Athwal

Is a human rights charity working too closely with the UK Border Agency (UKBA)?

A recent HM Inspector of Prisons report into the privately-run Sandford House short-term holding facility states that: ‘Reliance’s detainee welfare forum minutes suggested that some diversity training by Citizens UK’ is ‘being rolled out.’[1]

Citizens UK, when asked about this, told IRR News that this was a mistake and that its ‘work with Reliance in relation to the National Independent Commission on Enforced Removals’ had been misinterpreted ‘as training’ and that ‘CITIZENS UK has not provided diversity training to Reliance staff and there are no plans to do so at present.’[2]

The organisation went on to say: ‘CITIZENS UK has been engaging with Reliance, amongst others, through the process of the National Independent Commission on Enforced Removals. We have observed Reliance training days, which has proved crucial to the Commission and the recommendations we are now able to put forward in the report… Reliance have proved responsive and accountable, with their CEO attending two of our assemblies, and making significant commitments. Deportation, detention and enforced removals are very difficult and traumatic for our members and Citizens UK will continue to engage with all relevant stakeholders to make the immigration system humane, fair, accountable and transparent.’

Citizens UK is also involved in a ‘Community Sponsor Pilot’ project. ‘We have begun work with Citizens UK on a non-financial basis to develop a pilot to test the concept of community sponsors’, writes the UKBA’s David Wood (Criminality and Detention Group) in a letter to corporate partners. ‘We are currently in the planning phase of the pilot which aims to see whether suitably accredited people, who have a pre-existing relationship of trust with an asylum seeker, can offer ongoing, pastoral support to the individual/family going through the asylum process which is of benefit to both the applicant and UKBA. The sponsorship role is rooted in a voluntary and non-professional relationship and does not seek to replace professional advice or the role of other voluntary or state based organisations.’[3]

Citizens UK is a UK-wide organisation with eight chapters which bring together ‘churches, mosques and synagogues; schools, colleges and universities; unions, think-tanks and housing associations; GP surgeries, charities and migrant groups to work together for the common good.’ It has carried out important campaigns to highlight the plight of low-paid workers in its Living Wage Campaign and its more recent CitySafe Campaign seeks to help young people in danger.[4]

There is no doubt that Citizens UK has made some very important political interventions but now it appears to be succumbing, like a number of other voluntary sector groups, to state blandishments. Other examples include Barnardo’s, which provides welfare services at Cedars, the family friendly detention centre for families with children in Crawley and Refugee Action, which runs the Choices Assisted Voluntary Return Service. This new contract culture into which charities are being beguiled raises important questions about the nature of charitable organisations and their demarcation from state agencies.

Yesterday, plans were announced to open the probation service to competition from the private and charitable sectors, with proposals for ‘payment by results as an incentive to focus on rehabilitating offenders’. Surely some social responsibilities cannot simply be privatised and ‘sold’ to the lowest bidder?


Read an IRR News Story: ‘Does Barnardo’s legitimise child detention?

Read an IRR News Story: ‘The politics of voluntary returns

London No Borders Barnardo’s Campaign

[1] Report on an unannounced inspection of the short-term holding facility at: Sandford House, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, September 2012. Download the report here (pdf file, 56kb). [2] Email from Citizens UK dated 8 January 2012. [3] Letter dated 1 March 2011. [4] Birmingham, East London, Milton Keynes, North London, Nottingham, Shoreditch, South London  and West London.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

6 thoughts on “Citizens UK – for the people or the state?

  1. Thanks for the facts and a sound report. UK charities play a big role in lives of migrants and they should do so but it is true that some of them grow in influence and start playing a top down approach and they can become another hand of the state forgetting what is their role in being a voice for the voiceless.
    Refugees and Asylum Seekers can not cope with the pressure that the asylum process impose including use of detention centres, destitution and poverty but if your country is a threat to death you know where to be; you will choose to survive to live. So refugees charities remain then only option to find some help and means of survival.

    I hope our charities can play a more positive role, stop being used but help the decision makers improve their policies more humanely

  2. This is useful information and a sound argument. Just one small comment: as someone who complained bitterly to Barnardo’s when they accepted our money to imprison children, I wouldn’t have used the expression “family friendly detention centre”, which is an oxymoron.

  3. I suppose I’m naive in hoping that Citizens UK’s contact with UKBA workers might just sometimes influence these workers to see the injustices and incompetence of UKBA.

  4. Thanks for this article it’s long overdue.
    Since the start of 2012 in Nottingham Citizens UK and Nottingham Citizens for Sanctuary have worked very closely with G4S and UKBA to assist in the delivery of G4S contract to house to Asylum Seekers.
    This has proved a very detrimental position to take. In other areas of the country campaign groups have emerged to express their concerns,
    monitor G4S and lobby government. In Nottingham Citizens UK methods have diluted all dissent, diminished the human rights of Asylum
    Seekers and and made it very easy for the 2nd largest security company in the world to profit even further.

  5. Yes, as Jo says above, in practice Citizens UK have provided PR cover for G4S and UKBA. Companies like G4S try to hide their abusive business behind phrases about “partnership” with charities and “specialist organisations” like Citizens UK. Their campaigning is imbued with the class-blind, oppression-blind ethos of the “community organising” model.

    While the motives many of members of Citizens UK are good, their naivety is not shared by their leadership. The result is to justify state violence and private profit in the “asylum market”. Beware of Citizens UK!

  6. Had a discussion with Citizens Uk this week at a meeting, they need to stop interfering in things they don’t understand and hiding behind cliches of ‘caring’ What they care about is their own profile. They claimed to have done a great deal for improving services at Lunar House, and enabling it to be more child friendly, a colleague went there this week, and was appalled at how people were treated, no children’s toys, and food chucked at people – well done Citizens

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